The Water Festival had one feature film and several interesting documentaries that raised pertinent questions

Three Bengali films were screened in Bangalore at the recently concluded film festival on the theme of “Water”. While one was a feature film by the master film-maker Ritwik Ghatak (1925 – 1976), two others were interesting documentaries made by Anwar Choudhary. A contemporary of Satyajit Ray, Ghatak has a discerning and dedicated fan base that has endured and grown over the decades with some who think that he was a greater film maker than even Ray. Sadly, in his own lifetime, Ghatak did not receive the acclaim that he deserved. He was one of the most intelligent film makers of his times highly influenced by Communist ideology and someone who did not compromise on his understanding of the purpose of cinema (an art form according to him) as well as how films should be made.

Ghatak’s “Titash Ekti Nadir Naam” (A River Named Titash) (1973) was the closing film at the Water festival and it is one of his lesser known films. Made in Bangladesh, the film is set along the banks of the Titas river and is a realistic portrayal of the poor fisherman communities whose lives are intertwined with that of the river. Unlike his more critically acclaimed films like “Nagarik” (1952), “Komal Gandhar” (1961), “Meghe Dekhe Tara” (1960), Titash is not informed or rooted in the experience of the Partition and the experiences of migrants from eastern Bengal (later East Pakistan and then Bangladesh), but still this film is similar to his other work in the sense that it also dwells on the theme of displacement, wrought about by the changing course of the river in the linked stories of its several characters.

It is clear why this film was chosen as the closing film at the Water Film festival, apart from the fact that Ritwik Ghatak’s name always draws in a full house. Considering that the stated intention of the festival was to encourage a discussion on issues related to water, by choosing Titash, the curators have chosen a film that subtly shows how the river is the very soul of a community. The protagonist of the film is the river and it is an omniscient protagonist, providing a canvas for the world around it to paint itself on. Ghatak’s concern with portraying ‘realism’ in cinema is evident in this film; one also sees his obsession with the ‘mother image’.

The other Bengali films screened at the festival included two documentaries by Anwar Chowdhury. The films tackled simple themes showing slices of lives of people whose identities revolved and were formed around villages set among the intricate deltas of Bangladesh. Chowdhury works with restraint and does not pack too much into his films. His “Barren Dreams” is about the dreams of children who live on the isolated river islands of Patilbari-Digalkhandi in the Jamuna River. The hopefulness of their youthful dreams amidst their daily travails is what interests Chowdhury whose friendly camera empathises with their ‘barren dreams’ while at the same time, also telling the viewer that those dreams are futile.

Chowdhury’s second film was about the Bangaldeshi artist Farida Zaman drawing inspiration from her childhood village near the river. Zaman, who teaches at the Institute of Fine Arts in Dhaka, is rooted in the memories of growing up amidst the small fishing community of her village and this in turn, defines her work as an artist.